Miss Copner (Winifred Rae Copner)
On March 25, 2019, at age 76, and after a series of illnesses, Winifred Rae Copner winged her way to heaven to be with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Surely the trumpets and cymbals of heaven sounded out a welcome and the gates were flung wide to greet such a strong woman of God.
Rae was born at home in Hopewell, New Jersey, on June 1, 1942, weighing 2 pounds 11 ounces. She was so tiny that her mother fed her with an eye dropper around the clock for three months and placed her in an egg basket because a cradle was too large.
Rae worked as a medical secretary to the Chief of Psychiatric Services of Princeton Hospital for three years after high school graduation. In August of 1963, she packed her belongings in her Rambler and headed west to Phoenix, Ariz. where she continued working as a medical secretary for 10 years while she put herself through Arizona Bible College, earning a degree in education. She also completed an English as a Second Language certificate and graduate studies in reading and special education from Arizona State University and Northern Arizona State.
In her own words, Rae described what happened next: “The Lord led me to teach in a public school on the San Carlos Apache Reservation for the next 25 years. Our school district averaged approximately 1,400 Apache elementary students. What a wonderful adventure! When I arrived in December of 1972, everyone spoke Apache and the only time English was spoken was to the Anglo teacher in the classroom. (Of course this has changed over the years.) I consider it a wonderful blessing to have experienced living with a totally different culture and feel my Apache friends and students have taught me many things. My life has truly been enriched. Over the years I have enjoyed traveling extensively throughout Canada and 48 of our 50 states.”
Rae dedicated the majority of her life to teaching the students she dearly loved at Rice Primary School, at San Carlos. Over her 25.4 years of service, Miss Copner taught kindergarten, first and second grades. While she occasionally lamented that she didn’t have any children (of her own biologically), in fact, she was blessed to have hundreds of children! She and her mom loved to dream up and create many arts, crafts, and school projects for her students, including countless homemade Christmas stockings. She generously spent thousands of dollars out of her teacher’s pay for the arts, crafts, and school supplies for which there was no school budget.
Rae was well-respected as a teacher. Among her awards was “Outstanding Educator 1986-87” by the Globe/Miami Chamber of Commerce, and “25 Years of Teaching” by the San Carlos Unified School District #20 in June 1999, the year she retired.
One of Rae’s biggest blessings was “the girls,” a group of fast friends who bonded and stood by each other through the hills and valleys of life for over 40 years. She would often be heard saying, I need to call “the girls.”
In March of 2008, her California family medevacked Rae and her mom to Fairfield, CA to seek advanced medical care for Rae and to take care of both of them.
Thanks be to God and to Dr. Terrell VanAken, Rae lived 11 more years after being critically ill. Rae continued her strong unwavering faith in the Lord to the end of her life and is most certainly enjoying sitting as Jesus’ feet and cheering on her mom and daddy square dancing. Her presence among us as a sister, aunt, great aunt, cousin, teacher, and dear friend is deeply missed by all who were close to her.
Rae was preceded in death by her mother, Winifred Phillips Copner, and father, Robert Miller Copner. She is survived by her brother, Robert Edgar Copner (Margaret); nieces Winifred Wilson (Mark) and Robin Copner Cox; great nieces and great nephews Joyce Wilson, Tim Wilson, Justin (Annabelle) Cox, and Rachel Cox; cousins Ann Underwood, Bob Underwood (Kimberly), Sue Riordan (Tom), and Lu Leonard (Pete); and numerous third and fourth cousins.
Family, friends, and her beloved former students are invited to a celebration of Rae’s life on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, at River of Life Church, 5667 E. Golden Hill Road, Globe, AZ at 11 am, with a potluck reception immediately following.